On this Labor Day, we’re talking about an inventor whose work helped make the world what it is today.

His name was Lewis Howard Latimer, and he was born today in 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, to parents who had escaped slavery in the south.

Latimer served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War; when he came home, he found a job working at a patent office.

Along the way he taught himself mechanical drawing, and ended up as a draftsman.

In fact, Latimer used his drafting skills to help Alexander Graham Bell finish his patent application for the telephone just ahead of a competitor.

Latimer could develop his own inventions; his name was on seven patents, including a bathroom for railway cars, a system to cool and clear dust out of hospital rooms, and a locking coat rack.

He was also known for finding ways to improve others’ inventions, which is arguably where he made his best known contribution.

By 1880 Latimer was working in New York for the U.S. Electric Light Company.

Thomas Edison’s original light bulb was an enormously important invention, but the filament in that bulb could only be used for like 15 hours before it burned out.

Latimer figured out how to design the filament so that the lightbulbs would last.

That meant more people could afford the long-lasting bulbs, and the electric industry wouldn’t just be for wealthy households anymore.

Latimer would oversee the work done to build new electric plants in many major cities.

Thomas Edison himself went on to hire Latimer as his chief draftsman and the guy who dealt with companies that infringed on Edison’s intellectual property.

On top of all that, Latimer wrote poems and plays, he played the flute, helped found a Unitarian church, he taught classes for immigrants, and he worked for civil rights.

He was one of those rare people who could do it all, and did.

Today in 2014, the soccer teams of Malta and Slovakia were having a friendly match.

The teams lined up to hear their countries’ national anthems, but instead of hearing the Maltese national song, the DJ played “Numb” by Linkin Park.

Maybe the song was tired of being what you wanted it to be?

Latimer, Lewis Howard (1848-1928) (Harvard Square Library)

National anthem replaced by Linkin Park song at Malta-Slovakia friendly (Malta Today)

Thank you Patreon backers for all your hard work supporting this show

Image via Wikicommons